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Aquarium Care Series: Treating Common Ailments

by Ruby Bayan, OurSimpleJoys.com

Prevention is always better than cure, so making sure that the aquarium environment is always ideal is your best preventive measure against illnesses. This means regular check-ups on the optimum efficiency of the equipment, constant monitoring of the integrity of the water condition and temperature, diligent precautions against introducing harmful elements into the environment, and most importantly, a close eye on the fishes themselves. Keeping informed on the latest innovations in water conditioning for fish health is also important; for example, beneficial bacteria found in products like EcoBio-Block could help prevent infections and disease.

However, sometimes, no matter how cautious or diligent you are at ensuring the health of your fishes, untoward circumstances bring about health problems that need serious attention. If only for this unpredictable occurrence of fish ailments, you should be ready with enough know-how on ways to address fish health problems.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections

The most common health problem among aquarium fish is infection from bacteria and fungus. The primary culprit is usually bad water quality. Pollution due to the rotting of uneaten food, irregular water changes, and poor tank maintenance contribute to the deterioration of the habitat — this makes the fishes weak and susceptible to infections.

Stress, from mishandling, introduction of aggressive or incompatible species, and habitat disturbances, also leave the fishes traumatized and susceptible to diseases. Malnutrition, or an inappropriate diet, aggravates the situation – anything considered malnourished is definitely taking a serious health risk.

Here are some examples of bacterial and fungal infections, and how to deal with them:

  • Fin Rot – Fish with long, trailing fins are most susceptible to fin rot – a degeneration and inflammation of the fin rays and membranes. Aside from poor water quality and vitamin deficiency, fin rot is often the result of infections arising from damage brought about by mishandling, as well as fin-nipping attacks from tank mates. Infected fish should be removed and the affected areas treated with commercially available anti-bacterial fish medicine. Remedy water condition and compatibility problems, as well as diet deficiencies to prevent the spread of the ailment.
  • Fungus – Aside from bacteria, fungus can attack the areas on the fish body that has suffered some extent of damage (such as wounds or holes left by parasites). Cotton-like fungal growth appears as patches that give the fish a dull, shabby appearance. To treat fungal infections, subject the tank to a fungicide remedy. Address other possible causes like poor water quality, parasites, and aggressive tank mates.
  • Pop-Eye – One of the more serious bacterial infections is called pop-eye, marked by inflamed eyes protruding from the sockets. Looking very sickly, fish infected with pop-eye usually contract the ailment because of poor water quality, mishandling or distress from fighting with other fishes. Antibiotics may be effective but, if the infection has progressed to a form of tuberculosis, the afflicted fish may have to be removed and euthanized.

Parasites

On rare occasions, even the most cautious aquarist can unknowingly introduce parasites into a well-maintained tank. New fishes, live food, live plants, and some decorations are all potential carriers of aquatic parasites. Here are some of the parasites you should watch for:

  • Fish Lice – Also known as Argulus, fish lice, looking like transparent flat disks, attach themselves to the skin and suck on the fish’s blood. The fish feels itchy and scratches itself on the substrate or on rocks and other hard décor.
  • Anchor Worm – Lernaea, or anchor worms, are greenish-white threadlike organisms that attach themselves to the body of the fish. The skin becomes inflamed and the fish scratches the affected area on hard surfaces in the tank.
  • Leeches – Worm-like leeches attach themselves to the host fish to feed on its blood. The fish feels the irritating suckers and tries to scratch them off on the substrate, rocks, or wood.

To treat parasite infestations, remove the afflicted fish from the tank, and with a pair of tweezers, pull the parasites off. Apply antiseptic to the wounds. Proprietary treatments against specific parasites are commercially available. You will have to treat the whole tank to prevent further proliferation of these harmful organisms.

Other Ailments

Aside from attacks by bacterial, fungus, and parasites, fish also suffer from other maladies, mostly related to intestinal or organ problems. For example:

  • Dropsy – Characterized by a severely swollen or bloated abdomen and is believed to be caused primarily by poor water quality (high nitrate or sodium chloride levels) and malnutrition. Remedy, therefore, involves correcting the habitat conditions and the fish diet.
  • Constipation – Sometimes the fish fails to digest food properly due to a poor diet and overfeeding. Constipated and bloated, the afflicted fish will not want to eat; hardly discharging feces, and feeling weak, it will often rest on the substrate. Experts suggest adding a teaspoon of Epsom salts to every 10 liters (2 gallons) of tank water, and then making sure that the fish is fed the right food in proper quantities.
  • Swim Bladder Disease – Poor water quality, mishandling, and congenital disorder are the main causes of swim bladder disease. The afflicted fish has difficulty staying upright, oftentimes swimming upside down or sideways. Antibiotics and improvement of the water conditions can correct bacterial infection due to a poor habitat. Congenital disorders and permanent swim bladder damage, however, may be irreparable, therefore, euthanasia should be considered.

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